BY: Fr. Jude Chijioke



Readings: Genesis 18.1-10; Colossians 1, 24-28; Luke 10: 38-42

“The Lord appeared to Abraham…., Looking up, Abraham saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them; and bowing on the ground, he said: “Sir, if I may ask you this favor, please do not go on past your servant ….. Abraham hastened into the tent and told Sarah, “Quick, three measures of fine flour! Knead it and make rolls.” He ran to the herd, picked out a tender, choice steer, and gave it to a servant, who quickly prepared it…. And he waited on them under the tree while they ate.” (Gen 18).
“Jesus entered a village and a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is the need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” (Lk 10).

Brethren, now, in this famous scene at Bethany – a suburb of Jerusalem where, standing a Franciscan church or home of Friendship which also commemorates this Lucanian episode – we can almost distinguish two intersecting lines. The first is that of hospitality that today’s liturgy also recreates based on a story from the book of Genesis, that of an encounter between Abraham and the three divine messengers. In both cases it is a question of generous hospitality, which opens before an extraordinary and mysterious guest. But above all what is impressive is the fervor of those who welcome, within the time typical of the nomadic and oriental cultures.

Abraham runs, hurries and, with him, Sarah, and their servant all in full motion. The patriarch is brisk in giving orders and, even when the three guests are at the table, he is not content but stands in an attitude of availability to service. He is talking and busy, while his visitors are silent and solitary before the great words of hope that will open the unexpected in the life of Abraham and his wife: “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son.” The same movement pervades the house of Martha and Mary as soon as Jesus of Nazareth appeared at the door. But it is Martha who is involved in the whole subtle network of a thousand preparations and the cordial signs of hospitality.
It is at this point that the second level is introduced, the one that makes the two female characters in the gospel of Luke emblematic. The Christian tradition over the centuries has not hesitated to say that: Mary is the symbol of contemplation, while Martha is the symbol of active life and work.
However, a more careful analysis of Luke’s language makes us discover a very different contrast between that hypothesized by tradition. Jesus, despite having had his “peaks” of silence, prayer, and contemplation on the mountain or in the desert, lived most of his public life in the midst of the shouting of the crowd, the complaints of the sick, the work of farmers and fishermen, in the markets and on the roads of Palestine.

The exact understanding of this Lucanian tale is not so much to be found in the different “profession” or in the sphere in which the action of the two women is carried out, but rather in the basic attitude with which they relate to their activity. In fact, Mary is represented almost plastically in the symbolic attitude of a disciple: she is “at the feet of Jesus”.

Luke also describes in this position the possessed of Gerasenes after his liberation from the demon: he was “seated at the feet of Jesus” (8, 35). It is not a question, then, of the celebration of the superiority of contemplation over action but of the affirmation of a necessity that must be present in every state of life and in every situation; that of interior “listening” to the word of God. Martha is enveloped in the cocoon of things and is overwhelmed by them; Mary exalts the primacy and the vital necessity of keeping open the horizon of the infinite and of the spirit.

In any situation in which we are emersed, no matter what profession or commitment, it is always necessary to keep open this channel of interior listening which leads us into the deepest part of our soul where God is found and into the mystery of life. We must prevent things from absorbing us and gripping us with their weight. One can be even in the most silent rooms of the hermitages and still have a mind devastated by regrets, distracted by noises, tormented by worries, conquered by images. And one can be squeezed into the crowd or involved in the thousand chores of daily life and keep a heart pure and open to God, generous towards others, serene and “listening”.

The only thing that is therefore important is to keep the channel of the spirit open to God and to one’s own conscience. Contemplation is the dam that makes the water rise in a basin. It allows us to accumulate anew the energy to act.

Fr. Jude Chijioke

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